Wednesday, February 8, 2012

John Bonham vs. Ringo Starr

A story came out last week that Ringo Starr had been talking to USA Today, and said of John Bonham:
I don't listen to records for the drums. John Bonham's incredible solos didn't knock me out. I don't feel you need solos.

I've been down this road before, defending John Bonham's drum solos vs. The Beatles. Last summer, a local website re-ran an old article by one of my towns better known writers, Jim Haggerty. His writing his always designed toward humour, and is often a great creator of controversy. He was previously the center of what may be Cambridge, Ontario's largest controversy when he wrote an article bating dogs and their owners. The negative letters to the editor went on for months after.

The article in question was tribute to the music he liked, that which, in his words and opinion, had soul. The Beatles, he said, had "some of the most most beautiful lyrics and melodies ever written." staying with he Ringo theme, I concur: "I want to be/under the sea/in an octopus's garden in the shade" is unmatched in music and literature.

He then cited some music that would not make his newly burned CDs:
Zeppelin? Their 20-minute drum or guitar solos probably result from them losing their places mid-song, and not knowing what to do next. How pathetically dim-witted and banal.

What's a Led Zeppelin blogger to do but reply. I did. Here's my response to Jim Haggerty's disrespect of Led Zeppelin. Some of my comments are specific to other things Haggerty wrote, a little inside baseball, but the general idea stands without knowing anything about Haggerty's digestion or love of dogs:
I noticed in a recent Cambridge Reporter post, our most esteemed writer, James Hagerty, took some time out telling stories of his digestion to pontificate on music. “The Beatles were great,” he opined predictably. “Elvis, The Beach Boys, now that’s music,” he droned on. Somehow the phrase, “kids today…” didn’t make it into his piece, probably removed by a cliche conscious editor.

While his opinion that “Love, love me do/you know I love you,” is “some of the most beautiful lyrics… ever written,” and that the Beach Boys are “spine-tinglingly chilling,” are interesting, his assertion that David Bowie and Led Zeppelin have no soul (unlike those paragons of soul, The Beach Boys) defy rationality. As a Led Zeppelin blogger, I can’t allow it to stand:

Zeppelin? Their 20-minute drum or guitar solos probably result from them losing their places mid-song, and not knowing what to do next. How pathetically dim-witted and banal.

It is hard to imagine a fan of any band with Ringo Starr complaining about a drummer who can perform a 20 minute drum solo. That would be the same Ringo Starr of whom John Lennon once said, when asked if Starr was the best drummer in the world, “he’s not even the best drummer in The Beatles.” Conversely, Jimi Hendrix, widely regarded to be among the best guitarists ever, said to Robert Plant after seeing Led Zeppelin, “That drummer of yours has a right foot like a pair of castanets.”

John Bonham, Led Zeppelin’s drummer, was recently chosen top drummer in the world by Gibson.com. Meaningless as such lists are, the story is in the comments. There are hundreds of comments suggesting Keith Moon be higher, or Ginger Baker belongs on the list. What of Lars Ulrich? some add. Of the hundreds of comments, about six suggest John Bonham was the wrong choice for number one. All are from Rush fans who argue for their guy – who also does 20 minute drum solos. One particularly clever commentator wonders, what has John Bonham done for the past 30 years? Seeing as he died in 1980, it’s rather like arguing that I’m is a better writer than William Shakespeare because, hey, what has Shakespeare done lately? But once one decides to deride Led Zeppelin, clever argument and rational thought are usually the first casualties.

If Ringo Starr did a 20 minute drum solo, it should be noted, it would be surprising as the drum solo would be longer than The Beatles liked to play. In 1965, The Beatles went to New York and put on a 30 minute show at Shea Stadium. In 1977 Led Zeppelin sold out 7 nights at Madison Square Garden and their shows would extend past three hours. George Harrison was a Led Zeppelin fan, and once suggested to tour manager Richard Cole he would pop in during the intermission and see them. “Zeppelin doesn’t take an intermission,” he was told.

“How long do they play?” Harrison asked.

“Most shows run three hours,” Cole answered. “Never less than two and a half.”

“With the Beatles,” Harrison told Cole, after he declaimed a pious expletive, – much as Hagerty might write after dinner at the Vatican – “we were contracted to play thirty minutes max! Usually we were off the stage and gone within’ fifteen.”

So yes, a 20 minute drum solo might seem dim-witted and banal to someone who thinks a 30 minute show, compacted into fifteen minutes, defines soul. But a drum solo is, to paraphrase a favorite quote, certainly not dim-witted, and in actual fact, is ‘much smarter obviously than Jim Hagarty.’ Even my dog knows that.

Led Zeppelin had, in fact, three of the finest musicians of the rock era in one band, as not just John Bonham, but guitarist Jimmy Page and bassist/keyboardist John Paul Jones are both widely regarded to be amongst the best in their craft both with other musicians and on various “best of polls.” You can argue whether Jimmy Page is better than Jeff Beck or Jimi Hendrix, but nobody argues whether he’s a better guitar player than George Harrison or John Lennon. Dismissing such fine musicians as “pathetically… banal,” now that’s dim-witted

One final note on Ringo Starr in the article cited above, Starr says, "I love the (Beatles) remasters because now people can hear me." Yea, well, if we we going to listen to records for the drums, we'd listen to Led Zeppelin.



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